Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Homeopathy: It didn't work 200 years ago either!

An extract from the James Randi's weekly commentary:

Years ago, the homeopaths began performing tests on horses, hoping to show that since animals cannot know what the expected results of experiments might be, those tests would be considered effectively double-blind. Wrong. They failed to initiate the most fundamental precaution, one absolutely essential for such a procedure. True, the horses could be held blameless, but the operators – those who distributed, administered, and handled the substances used, and kept the records – were not “blinded” and could of course skew the results, since they were the ones who asked farmers if any animal was better or unchanged, and it largely depended on how the questions were asked. And they did.

Since the results they reported after these extensive tests were positive – no surprise to the “real” scientists out there who knew of the poor protocol – that flawed procedure has been carried out many times since. This is yet another example of a proper scientific procedure almost being applied to quackery. I must admit that I have not heard of similar procedures being carried out on plants, but perhaps plans are being made now to enlist this very easily influenced variety of life to “prove” the homeopaths' wild claims.

I hope the Slovenian government will think again before falling into this trap of accepting pseudoscience; this is an opportunity for them to show their resistance to a form of medical treatment which, though immensely popular, is nonetheless useless and belongs back in medieval days. Remember, not too long ago the process of blood-letting was standard procedure in medical practice. It was discovered that this was not only ineffective, but was exceedingly damaging. A long history of use is not a sufficient qualification for acceptance.

Typical of the uninformed criticism offered against real medicine is this excerpt from a letter-to-the-editor in the December 27 Daily Mail from one Derek Metson, of Brightlingsea, Essex, in the UK. Referring to a similar set of tests on cattle, Mr. Metson wrote triumphantly, the same comment-from-ignorance:

What do cattle know about placebos? It is clear scientists funded by drug companies do not wish to “tear up physics and chemistry textbooks” – that would put them out of a job.

Which is more “conventional” – something that has been tried and tested for more than 200 years, or something that has been around and changing for about a quarter of that time?

What Mr. Metson fails to grasp, is that homeopathy – in its 200-year history – has also made changes, but every one of them – such as the most recent one of sending homeopathic “vibrations” over the Internet! – have all been further retreats into medieval pre-science, while real medicine has developed such things as vaccines, antibiotics, heart operations and transplants, new diagnostic and minimally-invasive technologies, and many hundreds of other valid innovations that have saved literally tens of millions of lives, all over the world. Homeopathy is still an attempt to fight reality with mythology. That “changing” aspect of real medicine is what makes it great – it develops and grows, improving steadily, while quackery flails about trying to look like science and goes nowhere. Mr. Metson also identifies “scientists” as the enemies; I wonder if he’ll call upon a witch or a homeopath rather than a real physician the next time he falls ill.

In that same Daily Mail newspaper column was a letter from a Brian Godfrey of London. He repeated the standard claim that “Anyone who tries to submit complementary medicine to standard scientific tests will always obtain flawed results.” In other words, this is some sort of magical art, an exception to the rest of the real world, an aspect of the universe that Mr. Godfrey invents to excuse the fact that even one of the highest authorities in the world of complementary medicine, Professor Edzard Ernst, was incompetent because he used real methods of observation in testing popular homeopathic medicines. Mr. Godfrey does not state his own qualifications for making this claim, unfortunately. However, he reaches into his bag of brilliant ideas, and suggests that Dr. Ernst should have “a talk to Prince Charles, who certainly has more understanding of the subject.” We all know that members of the royal family are elected to that exalted position following rigorous examinations of their qualifications, and that they must pass IQ and common-sense test procedures, as well, so Mr. Godfrey obviously has appealed to a potent authority to support homeopathy. Or am I wrong about how smart the House of Windsor actually is?

Some people are doggedly determined to be and remain ignorant of reality.